THE overall winner of the junior category of the Unilever Chef of the Year award has his sights on an even greater triumph – earning a place in the elite team of South African chefs to be selected for the 2016 World Culinary Olympics.
Christo Pretorius, chef de partie at Zinzi Restaurant in Plettenberg Bay, received top honours at the Chef of the Year junior competition a few weeks ago, landing R10000 in the process.
“I was very excited about the win,” said Christo, 24. “It is not only a career boost but a great way to get noticed in the industry.”
It’s not his only recent coup – he is one of 12 finalists chosen for the Goldcrest Young Chef of the Year. If he wins at the October 14 final event he will train under some of the top chefs in Bangkok, Thailand for a week.
Christo grew up in Vryheid in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. After matric he moved to the UK to gain valuable work and life experience, initially working as a waiter at one of the Center Parcs resorts. “Here I saw passionate chefs in action and that’s when I knew I wanted to become a chef,” he said.
Soon he was promoted to the kitchen, working for a year and a half as a junior commis chef and learning about aspects like food styling, trends, nutrition, budgets and hygiene.
After returning to South Africa he did his official culinary training in Durban, under chef Charmaine Dixon of the 1000 Hills Chef School. This was followed by a stint on several high-profile yachts in the US for a season.
After returning to South Africa Christo moved to the Garden Route to join Zinzi. The restaurant is on the same estate as five-star Tsala Treetop Lodge, and is part of the Hunter Hotels Group. Zinzi is grabbing attention in its own right, having been recognised in the New Awards category of the American Express Platinum Card Fine Dining Awards last month.
Christo has spent the last year at Zinzi, which has an excellent reputation for relaxed family dining. “I’ve learnt a lot from our head chef, Ryan Miller, and particularly from Tanja Kruger, the head chef at Hunters Country House, our fine dining restaurant on the same premises,” he said. “My heart and mind are in fine dining and I would really love to do this at Hunters Country House in future.
“Tanja is currently in SA’s team for the Culinary Olympics to be held in 2012; my dream is to make the trainee team in 2012 and so get to participate in the 2016 Culinary Olympics – each country’s national team has four years to prepare for the big event and only SA’s most elite chefs are considered,” said Christo, who describes himself as a cheerful and energetic person who likes to make people laugh both in and out of the kitchen.
He also loves experimenting with new techniques and ingredients “whenever I have a bit of down time in the kitchen”.
Unwavering focus is another key quality. For the Unilever competition he had just one hour to come up with his menu and then three hours later had to prepare a three-course meal – and present it to a panel of celebrated local and international judges.
His mystery basket of ingredients consisted of a protein, Robertson’s veggie seasoning, local salmon, Knorr demi glace, streaky bacon, Carte D ‘Or wild berry sauce, a whole duck, Knorr mash flakes, shrimp and fresh mussels. A wide variety of fruit and vegetables along with basic dairy and dry ingredients were also included.
Christo’s winning menu consisted of a starter of local salmon and mussel cannelloni served with shrimp bisque and vegetable seasoning pickled mushrooms, a main course of pan-roasted duck breast with a demi-glaze gelée, onion mash flake purée, caramelised pumpkin and bacon, and a decadent dessert of wild berry soufflé with a lavender creme anglaise and a strawberry apple salad.
“The pressure was on,” he chuckled. “You can do a 14-hour shift in the kitchen, but try a four-hour competition like this and is mentally and physically more exhausting.”
The finalists were selected from semi-final mystery basket cook-offs held in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The other finalists in the junior category were Chang Sheng (Peter) Ye of the Raddison Blu in Port Elizabeth, who recently also featured on The Global Table, as well as Zamangwane Ngwane of the HTA School in Johannesburg; Gareth Walford of the Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg; Charmaine Allan of Christo’s alma mater, 1000 Hills Chef School in Durban, and Lyndon Carlisle Cresswell, of the Elangeni Hotel in Durban.
Christo will share his winning dessert for wild berry souffle with lavender creme anglaise and a strawberry apple salad on today’s blog – scroll down for it and a Q&A with some of his favourite tips and ingredients.
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Wild berry Soufflé with Lavender Crème Anglaise and Strawberry Apple Salad
Ingredients and method for the Soufflé
125ml wild berries; 5ml corn flour; 3 egg whites; 20g caster sugar.
Puree the berries and fold in the corn flour. Heat the mixture up on the stove to thicken it.
Whisk the egg whites till soft peak are formed; add the sugar and whisk until a stiff meringue is created.
Fold the berries into the meringue, pipe into buttered moulds and chill.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes, until cooked.
Ingredients and method for the Lavender Crème Anglaise
250ml milk; 2 egg yolks; 60ml sugar; 1 vanilla pod; 4 sprigs of fresh lavender
Heat the milk with the lavender and vanilla pod to just below boiling point.
Whisk the egg yolk yolks and slowly add to the milk.
Strain the mixture and cook over a double boiler till it covers the back of a spoon.
Ingredients and method for Strawberry Apple Salad
100g strawberries; 1 green apple; juice from 1/2 orange
Cut the strawberries and apples in brunoise and drizzle with a little orange juice.
Q&A: Christo Pretorius
1. How does it feel to have won the Unilever Junior Chef of the Year title for 2010?
It’s an enormous honour to have been chosen, but most of all I’m proud to have brought this accolade back home to Hunter Hotels and Plettenberg Bay. I hope this will highlight the amazing culinary opportunities along the Garden Route.
2. How would you describe your style of cooking?
I like preparing dishes that are simple, trendy and modern.
3. Which starter, main course and dessert rate among your own personal favourites on Zinzi’s menu?
To start with, our creamy mussels with country-style bread; for mains our honey and soy pork belly and to finish, our lemon tart which is a lemon curd filling in a sweet pastry case, served with chantilly cream and an apple and cranberry salad.
4. How important is it to you to use fresh and seasonal local ingredients?
It is very important. At Zinzi we try to keep food miles low and strive to have ingredients that come from a 10 or 20km radius, and haven’t been packed in a fridge or freezer for ages.
5. When cooking for yourself, what sort of food would you typically prepare?
I enjoy making my own pizzas and pastas from scratch. And everybody loves a braai!
6. What food trends are you excited about?
We don’t really do this at Zinzi, but I especially like jellies, foams and clouds – these are all newish trends in South Africa at the moment. I’ve been experimenting lately with a strawberry cloud, frozen strawberry marshmallow and an olive oil marshmallow. I’m also excited about emulsion sauces, for example using milk and oil.
7. Which ingredients would one always find in your kitchen?
Onions, garlic and fresh herbs.
8. Which kitchen tool or gadget can’t you function without?
My Global chef’s knife is light and sharp and you don’t even feel like you have it in your hand.
9. Who are your foodie heroes?
My international heroes are Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White because I like the way they handle their kitchens, and admire how quickly they earned Michelin stars for their restaurants. Locally, Charmaine Dickson was my mentor at 1000 Hills and my stepping stone for this career.
10. Do you have a favourite supplier or product in your local area?
We get fantastic fish and seafood in from Robberg every day. Another one is our beef, from The Deli Factory in Plettenberg Bay. I like the quality and tenderness of their meat.
Christo Pretorius / Zinzi Restaurant: 044-532-8228.